[The DIY feature from Faith, our new Editor-At-Large, will offer options to that jar or packet at the grocery store by giving you recipes for foods you might not think to make yourself. Homemade bread, peanut butter and jam - they're much easier than you think.]
Sweet milk treats have been common in Latin America, India and Europe for a long time - often as a form of preservation for dairy in hot climates - and they've become very popular in the United States. You can buy dulce de leche at the grocery store or make it yourself by boiling unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk.
But water baths and exploding cans make me nervous, and I discovered that it's easier and more rewarding to start at the beginning and make homemade dulce de leche from scratch.
Click below for the recipe...
Dulce de Leche
1 quart milk, preferably whole, organic and as fresh as possible
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
In a large, heavy pan with tall sides, combine the milk and sugar. Split the vanilla bean along its length and scrape the seeds into the pot, then throw in the pod. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
When it has reached a simmer, remove from the heat and add the bakin soda and water, stirring vigorously. When the mixture settles down, return the pan to the heat and bring to a brisk simmer. Simmer for about one hour, or until it turns golden brown. You don't have to stir - go about your business and keep an eye on it.
After the milk mixture has changed to a deep golden brown check it more frequently. This is where you can decide just how dense and thick you want it to be. If you want it pourable, like caramel sauce, wait just until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup - about 20 minutes after the color
change - and take it off the heat. Strain through a mesh strainer into a glass jar or container and let cool. Or, if you prefer a jam-like consistency to spread on toast, crackers, and anything else you can think of, let it cook longer. It will solidify into chewy candy if you cook it long enough.
Tightly covered and refrigerated this will keep a long time - at least a month.
Variation: If you want to make cajeta, often found in Mexico, use goat's milk instead of cow's, and put in a cinnamon stick instead of the vanilla bean. This has a more aggressive, complex flavor, which many people prefer.